Precious metals, think copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese – all essential for making wind turbines, solar panels, and electric car batteries in the form of potato-sized nodules scattered across the seafloor.
Supporters of deep sea mining argue that it’s necessary for the transition to clean energy claiming that it is greener than land mining because it’s free of waste, carbon emissions, and human right abuses.
However, experts caution against rushing into mining the deep sea as the threats to remote ecosystem are far reaching. Scrapping the ocean floor could destroy poorly understood habitats, wiping out entire species.
Sediments plumes stirred up by deep sea mining may severely effect ecosystems and filter feeding species that need clear and clean water to survive. Destruction of the deep sea environment could mean the ocean loses its carbon locking function that keeps the climate stable, and the ability to regenerate nutrients that feed fisheries.
The question arises, do we really need deep sea mining?
The Institute for Sustainable Futures argues that to reach 100% renewable energy by 2050, demand can be met without deep sea mining. Even so, the United Nations-charter International Seabed Authority (ISA) has already granted exploration rights to 22 contractors, including the governments of Korea, India, China, Singapore, France and Japan.
On the 25th of June 2021, the Pacific island of Nauru, pushed for deep sea mining regulations to be fast-tracked, giving the ISA two years to finalize regulations governing the industry.
If it fails to do so, the ISA is required to allow mining contractors to begin work under whatever regulations are in place at that time. Environmental groups have urgently called for a pause on deep sea mining to give scientists and policy makers more time to study its effects.
Given its tremendous value, commercial deep sea mining seems inevitable, but it remains to be seen if the ocean can survive the trauma.